Because Robinson Cano signing with the Mariners is all but guaranteed not to be the product of a fever dream I’m having in the beginning of December, the team is left with Dustin Ackley and Nick Franklin shaped redundancies at second base. While the former has all but been depleted of any real trade value, the latter is a soon-to-be 23 year old with a whole lot of promise and team control left, along with a bat with exceptional power for second base. Sure, he had some horrifyingly godawful strikeout problems at the Major League level this past summer, but given the supposedly large amount of trade interest he’s generated it doesn’t appear to be dissuading too many potential trade partners.
So it would seem inevitable that Nick Franklin’s going to be manning second base for someone other than the Mariners next season, right? Barring a successful move to the outfield, which is a different topic all unto itself, Franklin seemingly has no spot on the Mariners starting roster next season, and there are a few teams where he’d fit in quite nicely. I really hope that the front office isn’t rushing to trade Franklin this offseason, though, as the return may not be worth it. While there are a number of teams that would love to have him, I don’t see many that would be willing to part with the necessary return to acquire him (for what it’s worth, I’m setting the Mariners desired return for Officer Franklin as an everyday outfielder or a "number two type" starting pitcher). After a brief glance around the league the Blue Jays, White Sox, and Dodgers appear to be the most likely potential destinations for Nick Franklin, both in terms of their need and their potential trade chips.
This will probably be the longest section by far, so let’s get it out of the way first. The Blue Jays are in desperate need of a second baseman, but their farm system is substantially depleted after their trades for Dickey and Reyes last offseason, and the only two immediate impact players the Mariners would feasibly be interested in are Jose Bautista and Colby Rasmus. Joey Bats is awesome and I’d love to have him, but the Jays aren’t in a rebuild. They’re not going to give him up unless something goes catastrophically wrong next season.
Rasmus could be a nice CF solution for Seattle, but not at the price of Nick Franklin. Rasmus only has one year left on his current contract, and with the barren wasteland of the 2014 free agency class ahead of us he probably won’t be signing an extension any time before then. But if we’re working under the assumption that the Mariners need to add at least 10 WAR to the roster to become a playoff contender Rasmus’s 4.8 fWAR through 118 games last season suddenly looks very appealing. A lot of that value hinged on his abnormally high BABIP of .356, however, and that should set off a couple red flags right there. A few more should come up when I tell you that his only other season of 4+ fWAR also came when he posted a .354 BABIP. Outside of those two seasons (2010 and 2013), Rasmus posted seasons with fWAR of 2.6 (2009, rookie, almost entirely defensive value), 0.5 (2011), and 1.1 (2012). I actually really like Rasmus and wouldn’t mind seeing him in a Mariners uniform, but the combination of his contract situation and heavy reliance on BABIP for significant offensive impact don’t make him worth Nick Franklin in my eyes. If you really wanted to give up Franklin for a one year fix in CF I’m sure the Yankees would be more than happy to send Brett Gardner our way, who has been much more reliable than Rasmus over the same time frame.
They would love a young, cost-controlled, high upside second baseman like Franklin, because Gordon Beckham is mediocre at best. So what do they have? After acquiring Adam Eaton, CF Alejandro De Aza no longer has a starting job. De Aza plays center well enough, isn’t a travesty with the bat, and is probably good for 20+ steals when he gets on base, good for a solid 2 fWAR or so. He’ll turn 30 next season and is arbitration eligible for the 2014-2015 season. De Aza would be a nice piece to grab, but at the price of Nick Franklin? I’m not going to pull the trigger there if I’m Jack Z.
As discussed earlier here on LL, the White Sox may also be open to dealing underrated southpaw SP Jose Quintana. The linked article has a better analysis of Quintana than I could ever provide, so if you want a breakdown of who he is and why he’s valuable I highly suggest giving it a read if you haven’t already. I agree with Scott’s conclusion from the article: that using their most valuable position player trade chip in Franklin to fill a SP hole is kind of problematic for the Mariners, especially when the market is still loaded with SP talent and at a standstill thanks to Tanaka. It’s a trade idea worth pursuing, especially if you can somehow get both De Aza and Quintana in a bundle deal, but neither Quintana nor De Aza on their lonesome have me sending Franklin to Chicago.
This one will be brief, because I already wrote an entire FanPost exploring a trade with the Dodgers a while back. The main hang up here is the presence of Cuban defect Alexander Guerrero, the presumed second baseman for the Dodgers heading into next season. Long story short, the Dodgers are probably unlikely to make a big trade for Franklin after investing in Guerrero this offseason, but the pieces are there if they choose to do so.
So, What Now?
Unless someone becomes willing to give up something nice and shiny, the Mariners should stash Nick Franklin in AAA and let him rake until trade season. They might try to move him to the outfield like they did for Ackley, or they may just stick him at second and let him build up midseason trade value. It’s important to remember that the team does not have to trade Nick Franklin this offseason just because Robinson Cano is implausibly a Mariner. A team in the middle of the playoff race could be in desperate need for a second baseman, and the Mariners could be there waiting for them with a 23 year old savior stuck behind a superstar on the depth chart. Or Franklin could become a passable outfielder in Tacoma, the team’s biggest need at the moment. Or, hell, the Mariners could stumble their way into the playoff picture and still have Franklin as a trade chip required to fill out any remaining roster holes.
Once Tanaka signs I imagine the trade rumors for Franklin will pick up again, just like everything else in baseball. But don’t be surprised if nothing comes of those rumors heading into and through Spring Training. From the outside looking in it just doesn’t look like the market is there for a trade that benefits the team enough to justify trading Nick Franklin. The Seattle Mariners have had a fantastic offseason so far, there’s no need to stain it with an unnecessary undersell.